More money generally means more science, and vice versa. But the source of the money - whether from public or industry well-springs - may be as important in determining the type of research that gets funded as well as the direction that research may take. During the last several years, the percentage of industry funding relative to public funding has grown (see Box). For example, industry funding of clinical trials rose from $4.0 billion in 1994 to $14.2 billion in 2003 (in real terms) while federal proportions devoted to basic and applied research were unchanged, according to a study1 last fall in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This trend, according to some life science policy experts, threatens the independence of basic research. Others, however, see a move towards an increase in industry funding relative to public funding as a sign of the health...
The Real Issue: Public Funding
While, theoretically, increased industry funding could harm basic research, allows Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D budget and policy program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, there is little risk of it actually happening, at least in the United States, he says. Industry funding for campus-based R&D has traditionally accounted for less then 10% of total US funding, he points out. "In fact, most universities seek more industry R&D funding in order to diversify from their overwhelming reliance on the federal government," he says. Universities are now more concerned that the National Institutes of Health seems to be moving away from basic research toward more applied tasks, especially in the areas of biodefense, vaccine development, and clinical research, he argues.
Science projects requiring funding seem to be plentiful. While approximately 40% of total applications for research submitted to the NIH are approved as worthy of funding, only 10% to 20% receive NIH funding, notes Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, an Alexandria, Va.-based funding advocacy organization whose members include universities, companies, and foundations. The amount funded, however, may be dropping. While the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003, the fiscal year 2007 budget is expected to be $28.6 billion, a 0.1% decrease from the previous year, or a 3.8% decrease after adjustment for inflation, according to a commentary2 in the April issue of the The New England Journal of Medicine. NEJM authors say this is the first budgeted reduction in NIH funding since 1970.
John Ioannidis, coauthor of a British Medical Journal article charting an increase in industry funding relative to public funding, also sees the heart of the issue as being the level of public funding rather than of industry's contribution. "There is nothing wrong with industry funding research, nor do I see the motives of the industry being against society," says Ioannidis. "However, I worry about the possibility that government funding drains, and researchers simply have to depend on the industry. Even the industry will lose if academic creativity and independence is strangled. Perhaps the industry would lose the most."
An Ideal Balance
One institute's funding formula